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VMworld 2013: Will VMware Regain its Voice?

by Chris Wolf  |  August 19, 2013  |  10 Comments

Think of one of your favorite bands. Odds are that when they first hit the scene they were brash, unapologetic, and reached stardom at an unthinkable pace. Then what happened? If they’re like some of my favorite bands, they got rich, “matured,” and lost touch with what got them to reach their early success. They then spent their remaining days playing their early hits to a devoted audience. Or they break up.

Remind you of VMware, or other disruptive technology vendors? I ask because here we are a week before VMworld, and I’m wondering if the predictable VMware will show up – you know the one that plays the hits and caters to its base – or will we see something brasher?

My money is on the older, richer, more conservative VMware. Wearing my customer hat, I’d love to be wrong. Ten years ago VMware didn’t care who it offended. Along the way server hardware vendors had no choice but to partner with them even though VMware was screaming from the rooftops “With us, you’ll need less servers!” Now think about VMware’s 2013 push around the software-defined data center (SDDC). You know what word isn’t in SDDC? Hardware.

If VMware wants to really get the SDDC to take off, it needs to rediscover its inner rebellious teenager – the one that got it to where it is in the first place. Consider successful public cloud service providers such as AWS. Amazon’s stack places a premium on software and sees hardware as a commodity. Yet VMware is pushing a software-defined data center mostly on top of enterprise-grade hardware from its partners. How do you get to be cost competitive with AWS when you place a premium in the entire stack while Amazon only places a premium in software? You don’t. And if VMware and its partners believe it’s possible, they’re fooling themselves. Take a look at the VMworld 2013 Global Diamond Partners. They have one thing in common (Hint: It starts with “hard” and ends with “ware”). So in the end, the graduation party for the SDDC is primarily sponsored by hardware vendors.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that you can get rid of the enterprise hardware in your data centers – certainly not yet. But there is increasingly less of a need to build a virtual and physical infrastructure around the greatest common denominator – the tier 1 workload. That’s great for the vendors but not so great for your bottom line. Down the road I expect several of our clients to look at alternative lower cost technologies for less critical workloads. VMware needs to look at offerings with lower price points and perhaps a lower SLA that clients can use for less critical workloads. This is an area where competitors will attack VMware and try to get a foothold in the enterprise data center. VMware needs to show greater flexibility in how it offers choice to customers. One size doesn’t fit all. VMware needs to be more outspoken about lower cost architectures, even if that offends some of its high-end enterprise hardware vendor partners. Ten years ago, VMware was aggressive and unapologetic. It was a company that was passionate about helping its customers save money while also thriving.

In the process of becoming a “big company,” VMware lost its inner voice. VMware needs to remember what got it to where it is today. It wasn’t just great technology, but also an attitude where it put its customers first. It can continue to grow by thinking beyond how a typical large company should act. Give customers greater flexibility. Hold their hand and help them make smarter choices regarding their data center investments. Show them how to build a private cloud and SDDC where all of the value is in software. If VMware truly wants its SDDC vision to succeed, it’s going to have to learn to make some enemies and remember that if it keeps the focus on its customers, it will thrive in the end.

So VMware, do you have another hit in you? Or will we hear the same old songs that will surely make your hardware partners happy? SDDC has plenty of potential, but only if you let it all out. Sing a great song about how your clients can truly build a software-defined data center. Tell them how they can build low cost solutions with VMware software. Show them all the benefits of software-defined infrastructure even if the chorus is something that your hardware partners don’t want to hear. Your clients didn’t come to VMworld to hear Nickelback. They deserve better.

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Category: cloud-computing  server-virtualization  virtualization  

Tags: cloud  vmware  vmworld  

Chris Wolf
Research VP
6 years at Gartner
19 years IT industry

Chris Wolf is a Research Vice President for the Gartner for Technical Professionals research team. He covers server and client virtualization and private cloud computing. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on VMworld 2013: Will VMware Regain its Voice?

  1. Don’t VMware customers go to VMworld to hear Elastic Sky?



    – VIttorio

  2. John W says:

    VMware’s only good product is ESX. Everything else is ok’ish. I was very with the EUC vision presented a few years ago; let’s see if VMware puts some wood behind the arrow!

  3. Peter Smith says:

    Agreed. I think more of the same old stuff. I’m surprised they diversified some of the more interesting stuff to go back to their ‘core’ which is quickly becoming commoditized. Interesting times for them

  4. I agree with Chris but don’t get me wrong i love VMware! The people, the technical stuff and what it brought me in my work over the last years. The industry needs something that makes as unique and special as VMware did 5/6 years ago! i stil hope it wil be VMware that wil bring it but if they don’t some other startup or company wil! But what is it? Hyper converged, or independed resources in a powergrid like Datacenter?

  5. Joe Skorupa says:

    To succeed, VMware has to get past being a server virtualization company selling to the loyal installed base. To become a strategic data center company they have to tell the great story that brings the vision to life for buyers beyond the server admins. Otherwise, their SDDC will be a footnote in a market owned by others. The choice is simple: Go big or go home.

  6. The Market says:

    Its hard to put customer’s first when you are beholden to stock holders. They have made a bunch of acquisitions (Nicira being huge) and now they need to focus on the growth and moving revenue from hypervisors to management and Software Defined X tools.

    There is no going back.

  7. voovoo says:

    The beginning of the decline of VMWare was the change in their esx licensing model.

  8. kurt milne says:

    Curious – are you recommending to your paying clients they not work with VMworld because we have strong relationship with all the hardware vendors they all use? Or not to pursue SDDC unless they use the cheapest servers they can buy, with capacitors filled with sawdust etc.? I’m missing the point here…

  9. Vitorrio, This is the first year Elastic Sky won’t play. We’re bummed but hopefully we’ll return in 2014.. Miss you in the band!

  10. Michael says:

    Very interesting to see the current direction of VMWare. I’m always curious to see what will happen next with them…

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